Top of the class: Cocktail masterclasses can be a real money-spinner

Other: Business

Cocktail masterclasses can be a great extra money-spinner – and a clever means of inspiring both new-found respect and discernment among your customers. So sit up, pay attention, and 50 lines for anyone who interrupts, says masterclass guru Alex Kammerling

Knowledge is power, right? And there certainly is an abundance of knowledge kicking around the drinks industry at present. From brand trainings, spirit tastings and forums, to websites, bar shows and trade magazines – if you want to be the king-boffin on anything drinks-related, all the information is only a training session or a few clicks away.

The passion and thirst for knowledge from bartenders at present is awe-inspiring. I have been involved in training for a number of years now and every year the questions from bartenders get more and more in-depth and, well… nerdy. In fact, I worry that we are at the point of knowledge saturation, as even master distillers struggle with some of the questions that crop up now.

The sad thing is that consumers still know nothing about spirits. While we may get the odd whisky aficionado or gin queen to prop the bar up, generally speaking, the public has no idea what they are drinking on a Saturday night. And how can you blame them? There is little in the way of spirits or cocktail education from magazines, newspapers and TV to compare with that for wine. Sadly, most people just don’t really care.

It is high time we were more active about changing this attitude, and one way to do this is to hold spirits and cocktail masterclasses. After all, it is no good having the power of knowledge if we can’t use that strength, practically, in our businesses. And the more our customers learn about spirits and cocktails, the more they will spend on premium drinks and the more respect they will gain for our trade.

Some bar managers will argue that teaching their customers how to make drinks themselves is detrimental to their business, but this kind of event can not only build loyalty but can be another way to get customers in on the quiet nights, and can even be sold in as team-building exercises or a pre-event ice-breaker.

And it shouldn’t be underestimated just how excited it makes people to get behind a bar and shake a few cocktails. I guess it is the equivalent of us going in a fire engine to an emergency or getting to sit in the House of Commons. Getting punters to make drinks certainly encourages respect for what we do, because they soon realise that it is not as easy as it looks.


Some things to bear in mind when planning your masterclass:

  • Preparation is the key to any successful event, but this includes ‘expectation management’. The way you sell it in to your customers is important: if they are expecting a night of free cocktails with their mates and then turn up to find classroom-style tables set with 15 bourbons to taste, they will be disappointed. Better to have 10 people that are really keen to learn than 20 people who are there for the free booze.
  • If you are hosting it yourself, make sure that you know exactly what you are going to say and you are confident talking in public. It can be hard work trying to control a room of strangers who have just downed four shots of neat spirit.
  • If you do want to run a spirit tasting, don’t have any more than four things to taste. Keep the lecturing to a minimum and use lots of funny stories and anecdotes rather than reeling off your full knowledge – people who want to know more will ask you afterwards.
  • If you want to offer this evening to your customers free of charge then speak to your brand representatives, as many brands will be happy to fund it with stock and their ambassadors/trainers for the evening.
  • If you are going to charge, make sure that the price reflects what they will walk away with – for a £30 ticket for example, you would expect to have learned something, as well as drunk a fair amount of alcohol in the process.
  • Add a competitive element – break the crowd into four or five groups and set a time limit. Make sure there is some kind of prize, even if it is a round of free drinks for the winning team.
  • People love goody bags – miniatures, brand brochures, a copy of the cocktail menu, or a certificate of some kind is always appreciated.

for presenting to consumers

DON’T TAKE YOURSELF TOO SERIOUSLY – You are not delivering a speech on global warming; you are teaching them about booze

KEEP IT LIGHT – Most people are not interested in the theory of fractional distillation or the pros and cons of reflux

KEEP IT FUNNY – Humour is essential, as you will be expected to be entertaining, but be careful not to offend anyone with racist/sexist/crude jokes

KEEP IT MOVING – If you concentrate on one thing for too long, people will get bored

JUDGE YOUR AUDIENCE – If people are clock-watching and chatting among themselves, move onto the more interactive bits

KEEP IT FUN – Most punters just want to get behind the bar and shake some cocktails, but if you can teach them something in the process, all the better

I have recently been running masterclasses for Grey Goose within the Soho House group and the format of the evenings ran like this over approximately two hours:

STEP 1: Cocktail reception
(30 mins)

STEP 2: Sit-down vodka tasting – basic history, production and tasting
(15 mins)

STEP 3: Demonstration on the basics of how to make cocktails
(10 mins)

STEP 4: Divide the group into four teams of four or five and give them a mystery box of

liqueurs, fruits and mixers, each with a different design brief such as ‘create a short cocktail to be served as an aperitif for an Italian dinner’, or ‘create a Christmas cocktail’. They then get behind the bar and start making a God-awful mess
(30–45 mins)

STEP 5: Finished and named cocktails are then presented in front of the whole group and prizes awarded
(5 mins). A good tip: if you put the winning cocktail on the list for a month so that people can come and order their own drinks, you are guaranteed all the team members will come down with their mates to show off

STEP 6: Clean the bar
(2 hrs!)

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – January / February 2010

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